Convicted rapist could be set free; didn't get fair trial, judge rules
By Tom Beyerlein, Staff Writer
December 15, 2011
DAYTON — U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz ruled Thursday that Roger Dean Gillispie didn’t get a fair trial when he was convicted of rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in 1991 and ordered the state to either retry him by July 1 or free him from prison.
One of Gillispie’s attorneys, Mark Godsey of the Ohio Innocence Project, said he intended to file a motion for bond Thursday evening and hopes Gillispie is released from London Correctional Institution early next week.
“We cried all morning. We’re just so happy,” said Gillispie’s mother, Juana, of Fairborn.
“It’s just the best Christmas present in the whole wide world.”
Merz said the prosecution improperly withheld from the defense, and the jury, the fact that the original investigating Miami Twp. police detectives eliminated Gillispie as a suspect.
Quoting case law, Merz said that information “could reasonabl y be taken to put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict.” Gillispie, now 46, has always proclaimed innocence.
The three victims in the case testified that Gillispie was the perpetrator, but there was “absolutely no physical evidence that connected Mr. Gillispie to the crimes,” Merz wrote. “The state of Ohio is ordered to release (Gillispie) from custody unless he is again convicted at a trial commencing not later than July 1, 2012.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office plans to appeal within 30 days, said spokeswoman Lisa Hackley.
In a prepared statement late Thursday, the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office said it disagrees with Merz’s ruling.
“The three victims in this case have never wavered in their identification of Gillispie as the man who kidnapped them in broad daylight, held them captive and raped them at gunpoint,” according to the statement. “Two juries have found him guilty. The state court of appeals and the Supreme Court of Ohio refused to overturn his conviction on multiple occasions.”
Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who is one of Gillispie’s defense attorneys, said, “Obviously, I’m thrilled with the court’s entry. I believe this man is innocent. He’s been in prison for 20 years. This is a classic example of false eyewitness identification.”
He said Gillispie, who was about to be married, was “plucked out of normal life,” charged with crimes he didn't commit and wrongly imprisoned. The defense has identified another man it contends is the likely perpetrator.
Gillispie was given sentences totaling 22-56 years after a jury in February 1991 convicted him of nine counts of rape, three counts of kidnapping, three counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of aggravated robbery, some of which carried firearms specifications. The crimes occurred in August 1988 in Harrison Twp. and Miami Twp.
Merz’s ruling quoted an affidavit by Steven Fritz, then a Miami Twp. police sergeant who investigated the rapes. Fritz said Gillispie’s supervisor at General Motors’ Harrison Division, former Miami Twp. police officer Rick Wolfe, tipped police that Gillispie resembled a composite drawing of the rapist, based on victim descriptions, on a wanted poster.
Fritz said he and his partner, Gary Bailey, in April 1990 “eliminated Gillispie as a suspect because of the extreme differences in Gillispie’s physical appearance compared to that of the (witnesses’ description of) the rapist, and because Gillispie, with a solid job and clean record, did not fit the profile of the brazen rapist in this case. Also, Wolfe’s tip was suspicious.
The wanted poster for the case had been posted for nearly two years at the GM plant, but Wolfe waited until he had a nasty fight with Gillispie, and fired him, before suddenly deciding that he should turn in Gillispie as a suspect. As tips go, the one from Wolfe regarding Roger Dean Gillispie was a particularly unreliable one.”
Gillispie was only identified as a suspect when rookie detective Scott Moore inherited the case in June 1990 and created a photo lineup from which the victims identified Gillispie as their attacker. Moore didn’t pursue any other suspects, court records show.
In its statement, the prosecutor’s office said the defense would have known about Fritz’s elimination of Gillispie as a suspect because Fritz was retained by the defense as a private investigator before the 1991 trial.
Gillispie has fought his conviction for two decades. Merz overruled a state appellate court, which had determined that the withheld evidence about Fritz and Bailey eliminating Gillispie as a suspect likely would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
Godsey received an email from the federal court about Merz’s ruling while he was driving Thursday morning and immediately drove to Fairborn to tell Gillispie’s parents the news.
Juana Gillispie said she’s thankful that Merz “looked at it with new eyes and saw something’s wrong.”
“It’s like our life has stopped with his,” she said of her son’s imprisonment. “We want this (outcome) for every innocent man in prison.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2264 or tbeyerlein@DaytonDailyNews.com